ALA Notes: Planning for the Worst: Disaster Preparedness and Response in High-Density Storage Facilities

Roberta Pilette, Head of Preservation, Yale University Library
  • FM Global has just released the final report to consortium members and will be posted soon
  • “The Harvard Model” based on the Harvard Depository high density storage facility is defined by concrete building, no windows, 30 ft. or so bays with books in trays (boxed according to size) and retrieved by cherry picker
  • FM Global had based their models on warehouse storage scenarios (open shelving, materials on pallets)
  • in-rack sprinklers are effective in reducing the temperature of the racks
  • big surprise: by adding face sprinklers, you can expect 50% less damage
  • other discoveries:
    • narrow aisles make fire fighting difficult
    • amount of material affected in even a small fire can be large (thus “high-density” — one rack = 400 linear feet x 10 books / linear foot = 4,000 books)
    • trays: cardboard trays absorbed water very quickly, and as the books contained inside absorbed water, they overgrow the tray and fell (sometimes from 30 feet) from the shelf.  FM Global strongly encouraged the consortium to find another material for their trays; did some tests on acrylic coated board (results not in yet) — resisted absorbing water for about 30 minutes (not enough time).  Covered trays did help to reduce (but not prevent) the amount of water coming into the tray / onto the books

Beatriz Haspo, Collections Officer, Library of Congress

  • Ft. Meade is the offsite, high-density storage (based on Harvard model) at Ft. Meade military base (50 minutes away from the Library’s Capitol Hill complex)
  • First incident in Module 2 in 2009 during testing of fire suppression system
  • 11:00 a.m. on a work day — fire engineers and architects present for testing
  • Initial reports: not much water, boxes barely wet, books not very damp.  Shut down the fire suppression system
  • Removed 157 boxes, 2067 books (not many by LC high density standards)
  • Damage to containers (cardboard with a lid) from bottom up as water from the rack was absorbed
  • Books removed and organized according to the container location
  • “very successful failure” — this event happened before special collections started moving into Modules 3 and 4
  • Library then initiated series of collaborative meetings to refine water incursion protocol
  • hoping for funding for Modules 5, 6, and 7

Jacob Nadal, Preservation Officer, UCLA Library

  • in SRLF, the high-density storage facility for the Southern UCs, possible earthquake solutions:
    • shelves packed as tightly as possible
    • building within a building so that the stacks are suspected within the exterior shell to dampen vibration
    • shelves only ~7 ft tall — books don’t have far to fall
  • damage to the shelving itself is a concern — using the retrieval lift (cherry picker) could be impossible if the closely specified clearance between shelving bays was impacted
  • More info:
  • see also IPI’s Mold Risk Factor and dew point calculator
  • recovery advice:
    • get a freezer –a chest freezer (or a Wei T’o, if you can keep it running) or park pallets in a cold storage warehouse
    • Use PPE (personal protective equipment like respirators and eye protection) and HEPA filters rated for small particulates

Janet Gertz, Director, Preservation and Digital Conversion Division, Columbia University Library

  • share disaster planning from the perspective of the ReCAP facility (NYPL, Columbia University, and Princeton University) — located on Princeton’s campus and operated by Princeton staff and facility management
  • “Harvard model” high density facility
  • five modules at present containing bound volumes, manuscripts, photographs and a/v, plus 3D objects
  • no in-rack sprinklers — just ceiling
  • decision tree for on-site staff to evaluate wet materials for recovery need (see image at right)

Jennifer Hain Teper, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • Oak Street Library facility will be first to have MOBILE high bay shelving
  • no in-rack sprinklers — only ceiling sprinklers, but they are “ginormous” extinguish (i.e., meant to deluge and put out a fire) sprinkler heads … terrifying to preservation folks
  • collaborated with the Industrial and Enterprise System Engineering (IESE) Program for assistance in risk planning, aid in designing recovery plan (focusing on layout, retrieval, and physical recovery) and also to recommend building improvements for future expansion of modules.
  • tested a variety of materials in a variety of trays and boxes in a controlled scenario, designed prioritized extraction (which materials to salvage / save first)
  • going to recommend that special collections in future modules will not be stored above a human retrievable method (no higher than 10 ft)
  • using colored label savers to distinguish between general and special collections

One Response

  1. Thanks Holly for your copious note taking/sharing.

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